Virginia Morris Answers Viewer Questions on Caring For Elderly

PHOTO: The book, How to Care for Aging Parents, which deals with the difficult issues of eldercare.
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Over the past week "World News with Diane Sawyer" has heard from many of our viewers, asking questions about their own issues when it comes to aging parents and care giving. Virginia Morris, author of "How to Care for Aging Parents," has answered some of these questions below.

From Houston, Texas: It is really tough when there are no siblings to help with care of an aging parent. I'm an "only," and the decisions that I'm faced with are harder and harder. What resources are available to help?

People often talk about the difficulties of working with siblings, but they forget that it's pretty lonely doing this on your own. Contact the "agency on aging" that covers your parent's town. You can find them by going to www.eldercare.gov, or calling 800-677-1116. These agencies (they go by a variety of names) sometimes have a case worker who will help you assess the situation and walk you through some options. At the very least, they should be able to direct you to local programs and services.

If that doesn't help, you can hire a professional geriatric care manager who will come into your parents home, examine the situation, and help you develop a plan. It's not cheap – an initial visit will cost about $200 to $300 – but it's money well spent. You can hire them to do as much or as little as you want. You can find a care manager online at caremanager.org.

When you are juggling all the pieces by yourself, it's important seek out emotional support, as this is an incredibly difficult thing to do alone. Caregivers often don't realize just how much of a toll this takes on them. Even if you are not with your parent daily, it weighs on you constantly. Seek out friends, especially friends who have done this themselves, or join a support group. And make sure you walk away from it from time to time. You need to get some distance from it. Take time to take care of yourself.

Diana from Crofton, Md.: How does one handle long distance care?

It's important to be organized and plan ahead, no matter what your situation, but it's critical when you live far away. Think ahead, plan ahead. Talk with your parent early in the game about what will happen if he needs care or has to move. And learn about local services and housing options before he needs them. Contact the agency on aging for your parent's community through the eldercare locator (800-677-1116 or eldercare.gov). The local senior center, church or synagogue might also have leads. Organizations for specific diseases, like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, offer all sorts of information and support. And as I said, a geriatric care manager (caremanager.org) can be very helpful when you can't be there yourself.

When you're far away, be sure someone has contact with your parent most every day. You might call often – and a visual conversation, via Skype or the like, is helpful – but it's important that someone actually see her. If there is a visitor or companion program, take advantage of it. Meals on Wheels is more than just food; it's a person at her door. Be sure you have phone numbers for a neighbor who can check in if you suspect a problem. From afar, you will also want to set up her accounts so bills are deposits and bills are handled automatically.

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